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Travel Tips

Road Tripping Through Ireland and Scotland

With a common Celtic history, taking a self-drive trip that combines Ireland and Scotland is a natural. Ireland and Scotland are part of the six Celtic Nations, a designation that is cultural and geographical as opposed to political. Ireland and Scotland share a common identity, culture, and a traditional territory.

Before Ancient Roman, Germanic, and Slavic tribes buzzed through Europe, a large area was dominated by Celtic-speaking cultures. Today Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man are still proudly Celtic. Many Americans have ancestors from these areas, and taking a road trip to get a sense of where you’re from is memorable. And, if you don’t hale from these parts? Grand! Get a feel for the land, poetry, and language of this spectacular part of the world.

The following are some stops along your route to consider. This itinerary can be modified, reversed, or simply used as a rough sketch of the places you might love to see:


Tourists walking outside of Malahide castleMalahide Castle


You can fly into Dublin from numerous cities throughout the United States. It’s a terrific idea to ask a Destination Expert to arrange for a chauffeur to pick you up when you land, and take you to your hotel in quiet luxury—after a long flight, it’s heaven. While in the city, consider a Dublin storytelling and pub crawl, tasting at the Guinness Storehouse, shopping on Grafton Street, and exploring Dublin Castle, the nerve center of historical Dublin, built on the site of a Viking fortress in the 13th century.

For a peek into the past, the Book of Kells at Trinity College, the National Museum of Archaeology, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Malahide Castle, and the National Gallery of Ireland are a must. St. Stephen’s Green was laid out in 1880, and is landscaped with flowers, trees, a lake, a fountain, and memorials to beloved Dubliners, including James Joyce and WB Yeats. Merrion Square, created in 1762, is the grandest Georgian square in the city.

Dublin > Kilkenny

View of Kilkenny city on the river Nore with Kilkenny castle in the distanceKilkenny

Ask your Destination Expert to reserve a rental car for you in Dublin and then head to Kilkenny. Just 1 ½ hours southwest of Dublin, mysterious and medieval Kilkenny is a world apart. One of the country’s most atmospheric and beautiful inland cities, it is filled with surprises. Kilkenny Castle is situated on the beautiful River Nore. Built in 1190, people lived there up until the 1930’s. The stables are now the Kilkenny Design Center. If you’re looking for local art, this is the place for you!

Kilkenny > Cork > Killarney

It’s a 1 hour and 50 minute drive to Cork, and then 1 hour and 5 minutes to Killarney. If you wish to stay in Cork, or at least linger a while, head to the harbor. Cork was the main point of contact with Spain, France, and England. It was an important place of emigration to the Irish who were fleeing the Great Famine. It’s very possible you had relatives in Cork, and for that reason you may want to stay and search for family. As Ireland’s second largest city, it’s a buzzing cultural scene. While there, check out the Cork Butter Museum, opened in 1770 and the world’s largest butter market! Consider the Landmark Fin Barre Cathedral, the historic Shandon Quarter, and Blackrock Castle. There are also five distilleries in Cork.

Aerial view of Cork cityCork


Kilkenny > Cork > Killarney

If you choose, you can easily depart Kilkenny, drive through Cork for the beautiful harbor, and then head straight to Killarney in County Kerry. It’s just a 2 hour and 40 minute drive from Kilkenny to Killarney—an excellent base to explore the magnificent Ring of Kerry. There is a world of beauty to choose from in County Kerry. Consider the Skellig Islands, jagged isles off the coast. The largest, Skellig Michael, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its early Christian monastery. More recently it starred as Luke Skywalker’s Jedi temple in the 2015 and 2017 Star Wars movies.

Image of a lake in Killarney with small wooden boatsKillarney

The Lakes of Killarney are simply stunning. Three lakes are in Killarney National Park; castle and abbey ruins dot the landscape. The Muckross House is an elegant 19th century manor. Take a horse and carriage ride along the wild coast and feel the magic of a gentler time. The Gallarus Oratory is also a favorite in County Kerry. Shaped like an upside-down boat, and built between the 6th and 9th centuries, it’s the finest preserved early Christian church in all of Ireland.

SIDE TRIP from Killarney: Dingle

Tourists pulling over on Slea Head near Dingle to take in the views of the sea Slea Head near Dingle

Discover the Wild Atlantic Way on this 1 hour and 5-minute drive. Pull over often for photos and to simply walk the land. It’s here you’ll find small ruins with cows munching grass on toppled walls and sea views that go on forever. The town of Dingle itself is a favorite. This harbor town has brightly colored shops and more than 60 pubs that offer live music. Consider an overnight here from Killarney if you want authentic traditional Irish music when the evening rolls around.

Killarney > Belfast

This is a 5-hour day drive through gorgeous country. Northern Ireland, part of the UK, is the ancient home of the Irish Ulster Kings. It was here that St. Patrick landed in 432 AD, founding a church in Armagh, the country’s spiritual capital. Spend a few nights in Belfast and make time to visit the Giant’s Causeway, Old Bushmills, the Titanic Belfast Museum, and in the evening go to the city center and sample the Cathedral Quarter’s pubs.

Titanic Visitor Center in Belfast lit up during evening hoursTitanic visitor center

Discover the political murals in west Belfast and relax in the Botanic gardens. There are loads of wonderful day trips from Belfast, including the Beaghmore Stone Circles and the Ulster Folk Museum. It will take you about 20 minutes to get to the ferry bound for Scotland, and the ferry ride is just 2 hours and 15 beautiful minutes. It takes you to a small Scottish town, Cairnryan, and from there it’s a leisurely drive of 99 miles to Edinburgh.


Edinburgh skyline at nightEdinburgh

Edinburgh is a city that’s waiting for you to explore. Both the Old Town and the New Town are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Narrow lanes (wynds) are filled with small, alluring shops. Vistas of the ocean and green hills surround you. Delight in pub crawls, dance-until-dawn cafes, and feel the quiet beauty of dawn on cobbled streets.

While there, visit Edinburgh Castle and you’ll get an authentic feel for the history of the entire country. (And the views are out of this world.) Consider going to Sandy Bell’s for Scottish folk music, mysterious Rosslyn Chapel and its Da Vinci Code spell, the Royal Yacht Brittania, Arthur’s Seat, and explore the haunted underground vaults for an odd look at history.

Edinburgh > Inverness

Couple enjoying the view of the highlands outside of their car

Head north for three hours through exceptional scenery, taking side trips along the way, and use Inverness as your destination. The gateway to the Highlands, this city is an ideal place for those who thrill to outdoor adventure as well as for history buffs. It’s also good for a day trip to Loch Ness, including the Culloden Battlefield, and Urquhart Castle.

Located on the River Ness, at the northern end of the Great Glen, Inverness was founded by King David in the 12th century. Head to the Ness Islands and you’ll see lovely Scots pines and Victorian bridges connecting the islands. The Inverness Museum has period rooms with historic weapons, Pictish stones, as well as Highland arts, crafts, and a gallery.

Inverness > Stirling

Drive 2 hours and 40 minutes south to Central Scotland and Stirling. This is where you’ll find Scotland’s historic roots—the battles that occurred in the Stirling area are what shaped Scotland’s destiny. The Highlands recede to the Lowlands, and you’ll feel the magic of peaceful woodlands, rivers, waterfalls, hills, and mountain peaks. It’s not only a place for history lovers, it is ideal for outdoor adventurers.

William Wallace MonumentWilliam Wallace Monument

Situated on a dormant volcanic plug, Sterling’s Old Town has cobblestone streets that wind past shops and historic buildings up to magnificent Stirling Castle with its extraordinary views. The Wallace Monument is here, a testament to William Wallace as seen in in the movie Braveheart, and nearby is Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce triumphed over the English in 1314.

While in Stirling, explore Stirling Castle—a fortress has been on the same site since Prehistoric times. It was the residence of the Stuart monarchs from the 14th to the 16th centuries. The highlight for most is the Royal Palace. You might also take a look at the Old Town Jail, the National Wallce Monument, Bannockburn Heritage Center, and the Stirling Old Bridge. Wander the city lanes and let your imagination take flight.

Stirling castle on top of hillStirling castle

Stirling >Edinburgh or Glasgow > Edinburgh

It is a one-hour drive from Stirling to Edinburgh, a 40-minute drive from Stirling to Glasgow, or a one-hour and 15-minute drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Glasgow is Edinburgh’s kicky little sister. If you want a taste of a vital city with stylish bars, a lively music scene, cutting edge art, and top-rated museums, head to Glasgow from Stirling, and spend the night. Then drive the next day to Edinburgh and fly out from there.

If you just want to chill, go straight from Stirling to beautiful, enduring Edinburgh. Check into a gracious hotel and spend your last night in Scotland in front of a cozy fire with a dram of whisky, recounting the memorable moments of your self-drive vacation of Ireland and Scotland.

Two whisky glasses with buildings old town Scotland in the foreground


Your time, of course, in each destination is absolutely up to you. This is a sample of possibilities for your self-drive tour of Ireland and Scotland. You may prefer to spend more time in one country than another. For example, if you’ve been to Ireland, you may want to fly into Dublin and drive straight north through the ancient Boyne Valley to Belfast, spending more time in Scotland. And, of course, you may opt to fly into Edinburgh and out of Dublin. The choices are all yours.

Let your Destination Expert know that you want the freedom of the road, and ask them to customize your perfect Ireland and Scotland combination vacation!!